Residents have launched a campaign to stop houses being built on land named after one of Sunderland AFC’s greatest players.
Members of Whitburn Neighbourhood Forum are gearing up to fight any plans to build on the site of the Charlie Hurley Centre.
They want the ground, formerly used as a training facility for Sunderland AFC, brought back to community use.
Members want to see children and residents have access to the land, situated on Cleadon Lane, and for it to be used for sport and leisure activities.
The centre has not been used by the Black Cats since the opening of the Academy of Light 14 years ago.
But the club has confirmed it is “exploring opportunities” with housing developer Story Homes, who say they would be keen to build on the land despite the fact that it is in the green belt.
Although no planning application has been submitted, campaigners are frustrated that land once given to the community is out of use and could one day be gone forever.
Speaking on behalf of Whitburn Forum, its chairman Phil Leaf said: “From the forum’s point of view we have got this land and it’s not being used.
“The forum wants it to be used for some sort of leisure purpose.
“If we look at the history of it, it was donated to the community for sport and leisure.
“But for the last 10 to 15 years it has been left fallow, and we want to get it back to its former glory.
“We see it as a multi-million pound football club not supporting grassroots sport.
“There is no reason to build on it, as it is under green belt.”
The group are not the first to call for the site to be put back into use.
Last year Peter Curtis, from Sunderland-based NE Sport, also campaigned for the ground to be put to better use for sporty youngsters in the area.
Sunderland AFC confirmed they were exploring options for development, but have no definitive intention for the site.
A Sunderland AFC spokeswoman said: “We are exploring opportunities with Story Homes in relation to land in Whitburn owned by the club.
“At such time as we have a clear intention for the site, we will communicate this with the public”.
Story Homes confirmed they would be keen to build new homes on the site.
A spokeswoman for Story Homes said: “Story Homes is promoting the development of new homes on land north of Cleadon Land in Whitburn, which is owned by SAFC.
“At this stage, we are committed to discussions with the South Tyneside Council and the Whitburn Neighbourhood Forum in parallel to these parties progressing their emerging local plan and neighbourhood plan respectively.”
South Tyneside Council confirmed no application has been received to date.
A spokeswoman said: “Local planning authorities have a duty to determine planning applications in accordance with adopted planning policy.
“That policy is the Local Development Framework for the borough and this site is in the designated green belt.
“There has not been an application submitted for development on the site.”
Now 80, Cork-born Charlie was once voted SAFC’s Player of the Century. The centre-half spent 12 years at Roker Park and was capped 40 times by the Republic of Ireland.